Gay London • Essential Guide

First time in London? Then our essential guide for gay travellers is for you.

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London is the most populous city and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, with over 8 million residents. It is also the most visited city in the world.

London is a culturally diverse city where more than 300 spoken languages within its boundaries.  The city is home to several World Heritage Sites, museums, theatres, galleries, events and huge sporting venues, attracting millions of visitors each year.

 

Gay Rights in the U.K.

The death penalty for a homosexual act was removed in 1861, but it remained a criminal offence. It was not until 1967 that homosexual acts in private between consenting adults over the age of 21 was decriminalised. More recently the age of consent was reduced to 18 and then, in 2001, to 16.

In 2002 laws were passed permitting the adoption of children by same-sex couples. In 2003, all previous laws relating to sexual acts were replace with a new law that had no regard to sexual orientation.

Civil Partnerships, a union that grants same sex couples the same rights as a with marriage, came into effect in 2004. Immigration rules were amended to grant equal rights to same sex couples. continued below pic

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London Eye / Houses of Parliament

In 2007 new laws prohibited the discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation. These laws have been extended to provide equal employment rights as well as in the provision of  private and public services.

Hotels are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. By law, hotels and guest houses must welcome gay travellers in exactly the same way as straight travellers. This rule works in reverse – it is illegal for a hotel to limit itself to only accepting gay guests. In reality, hotels across the UK have warmly welcomed gay travellers for many years.

Recently, ‘hate speech’ and ‘hate crimes’ based on sexual orientation have been criminalised giving additional protection to the LGBTQ community.

Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales was passed by Parliament in July 2013, and came into force in 2014. Similar legislation was fast-tracked through the Scottish Parliament and came into force in 2014. Civil Partnerships are recognised in Northern Ireland, but there are no plans for legislate for gay marriage.

 

Gay Scene

London has a very open, vibrant and diverse gay scene with something for everyone. There are a huge number of lively gay bars, extraordinary nightclubs, steamy saunas, well-stocked gay shops and proud gay organisations. London has two main ‘gay villages’ located in Soho and Vauxhall.

The Soho gay area is located in the center of the city, close to the Piccadilly Circus. Many of the venues are on or close to Rupert Street and Old Compton Street.  You will find an excellent choice of gay bars and restaurants.

The Vauxhall gay area is located south of the Thames River near Vauxhall Bridge. It is particularly well-known for late night dance clubs.

However, there are many fabulous gay venues across the city, not just in these two areas.

London’s annual Pride is one of the best in Europe, with more than 50,000 people taking to the streets. The 2016 parade was one of the biggest events held in central London and even featured a fly-past by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows display team.

London Pride

Gay Pride London 2016

 

Getting to London

London has the world’s largest city airport system, comprising of five international airports.  The two main international “long-haul” airports are Heathrow and Gatwick. London Luton, London Stanstead and London City Airports handle mostly European and domestic flights.

Heathrow

Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. It has 4 terminals (numbered 2, 3, 4 and 5 – Terminal 1 is closed).

Heathrow is connected to the city by a fast rail link called the Heathrow Express.  The journey takes 15 minutes non stop to Paddington Station – located to the west of the London’s city center. From Paddington it is easy to catch a Taxi or continue on the Underground to your destination.  There is an alternative rail service to Paddington, called Heathrow Connect, that stops at a number of stations. It is cheaper but the journey time is 25 minutes.

The Piccadilly Underground Line runs from Heathrow  through central London. It is cheaper but slower than the Heathrow Express (it can take more than 1 hour to reach central  London). During peak hours (7:30-9:30 and 17:00-19:00), it can be very difficult to travel with luggage on the Underground through central London.

Buses and ‘Black Cab’ taxis are available at Heathrow.  Expect to pay £50 or more for a taxi to central London.

Gatwick

Gatwick has two terminals (North and South) and is used by a mix of European and long haul airlines. Gatwick is connected to the city by a rail link called the Gatwick Express.  This is a 30-minute non-stop service to Victoria Station located in the South West of London’s city center. From Victoria you can catch a taxi, bus or underground line to your destination.

Taxis and bus services are also available at Gatwick.  Expect to pay £60 or more for a taxi to central London.

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Buckingham Palace

Getting around London

Underground / Metro (also known as ‘The Tube’)

London has an extensive underground metro system.  It is the fastest way to travel around the city.  The underground network is made up of different ‘lines’. Each line has its own name such as ‘Victoria Line’, ‘Piccidilly Line’, ‘Jubilee Line’.  Trains operate from around 5am to 1am. From August 2016 some lines started to operate throughout Friday and Saturday nights.

The underground network is zoned.  Ticket prices are based on the zone from which you start your journey and the zone that you finish – regardless of how many lines or stations that you use.

Tickets are available for individual journeys but using an Oyster Card or Travelcard  is much cheaper (see below).

Bus

London bus network is modern, safe and easy to use.  Bus routes are numbered.  Each bus displays a route number of the front so you know where the bus is going.  Every bus stop has a map showing the routes that the bus will follow.

Buses don’t accept cash. You will need to pay for a journey with an Oyster Card, contactless debit or credit card or Travel Card. Buses typically operate from 6am to midnight.  Some popular routes operate throughout the night.  These are called ‘Night Buses’.

Taxi

Iconic ‘Black Cabs’ can be found everywhere in London.  Drivers are knowledgeable and honest. All journeys are priced using a meter.  Using a taxi is an easy way to travel around London but usually the most expensive.

You can book a ‘mini-cab’ for a specific journey.  ‘Mini-cabs’ are licensed private cars.  You should agree a price for the journey at the time you make a booking.  Many late-night bars and nightclubs operate a mini-cab service to help customers get home.

Mini-cab drivers are not allowed to pick up customers on the street.  If you are approached by someone offering a mini-cab service, refuse. Uber is also very popular in London. Uber is widely used in London.

Walk

Many of London’s most popular attractions and shops are within easy walking distance.  This can be the best way and cheapest way to explore the city, particularly during the summer months.

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Houses of Parliament

Visitor Oyster Cards / Travelcards / Contactless payment

We strongly recommend purchasing an Oyster Card or Travelcard or using a contactless credit or debit card.  These options are easy to use and cheaper than single tickets.

An Oyster Card is pre-loaded with credit that can be used on the Underground, buses and some railway lines.  You are guaranteed the cheapest fare for each journey.  You can ‘top up’ your Oyster Card at all Underground stations.  You can buy a Visitors Oyster card online before you travel to the UK or buy a standard Oyster Card at any Underground station.

A Travelcard is a paper ticket that is valid for 1 or 7 days unlimited travel on the Underground and buses within specific zones.  Most visitors to London will only require Zones 1 and 2.  You can purchase a Travelcard at any Underground Station.

If you have a credit or debit contactless card, then simply use this to get the best fares. Simply tap in and tap out at every station (make sure you use the same card).

 

Where to Stay

For our list of recommended hotels and to check rates and book online, visit the Gay London Luxury Hotels, Mid-Range Hotels and Budget Hotels pages.

 

Things to See & Do

For information on the best attractions in London, visit the Gay London – Attractions page.

 

When to Visit

The UK has four seasons – Winter (November-March / cold and wet), Spring (April-June / mild), Summer (July-September / hot and dry)  and Autumn (October-November / cool and wet).

Generally speaking, from a weather perspective, the best time to visit the UK is from April until the end of September.

 

Visa

In recent years, the UK has tightened its immigration procedures and introduced the use of biometrics.  Full details can be found here.

Most visitors from Europe, and countries such as the USA, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and Taiwan do not require a visa – check here to see if this applies to you.

Most other visitors from Asia, South Africa and South America need to obtain a visa before travelling to the UK.  You will normally be required to attend an interview at your local UK Embassy.

Entry is normally permitted for a period of 6 months, and you are free to travel anywhere in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  A UK visa is not valid for travel to other European countries.

 

Money

The official currency of the United Kingdom is pound sterling (£, GBP), commonly known simply as the pound.

Exchanging cash into British Pounds in the UK can be expensive.  Most Asian travellers get a better rate by exchanging currency before travelling to the UK.

Visa & MasterCard and debit cards are accepted almost everywhere.  American Express and Diners cards are widely accepted.  The UK uses a ‘Chip and PIN’ system for all payments.  If your card has a microchip, expect to be asked to enter your PIN number rather than sign.  If you do not have a PIN, expect to be asked to show official photo ID.

Contactless debit and credit card payments are becoming more popular for smaller purchases in coffee shops, car parks, grocery stores and on public transport.

Banks usually open between 09:30 and 16:00, although many in larger cities or major shopping areas will stay open a lot later.

 

Shopping Hours

Shops in London are generally open from 10:00 to at least 18:00.  Large department store and shopping malls stay open a lot later.  Shops are only permitted to open for 6 hours on a Sunday (most open between 11:00 – 17:00).

 

Phones and Internet

The UK mobile phone networks use the GSM system.  3G and 4G services are available everywhere in London and across most of the UK. Using a non-EU mobile phone in the UK can expensive. We recommend purchasing a ‘pay-as-you-go’ SIM card. These are cheap and widely available, including micro SIM’s for a Iphone and similar device. Pay As You Go cards usually include some ‘free’ internet access.  Most coffee shops offer free WiFi.

 

Health Care

The UK has a modern medical infrastructure.  You will always receive medical assistance in an emergency.  If you have a medical emergency, use any phone and dial 999.  If you have medical problem that is not an emergency then dial 111.

Medical treatment can be expensive so travel insurance is essential.

Pharmacies can provide a limited amount of advice and sell some drugs over the counter. Prescriptions issued by a UK doctor will be required for other drugs.  There are a number of 24-hour private doctors clinics that will see people on a ‘walk in’ basis – such Medicentre.

 

Language

English – British people are pretty bad at learning other languages.  Some large Department Stores, such a Selfridges have teams that speak a wide range of languages.

 

Tipping

A tip of 10% – 12.5% will be expected in a restaurant.  Always check to see whether a ‘service charge’ has been added to the bill.  If so, no additional tip is required.

Taxi drivers will expect a small tip of up to 10%.  Pay £1 – £2 to the bell boy in a hotel.  In a bar or club, leaving a small tip may help you get noticed and served faster the next time you buy drinks.

 

Emergency Contacts

Use any phone to dial 999 for the police, fire service or in case of a serious medical emergency.

You can use any mobile phone to make a 999 call free of charge.  Do not use the 999 service for any other purpose.

 

Drugs

The use of recreational drugs in the UK is illegal.  In reality, many people take illegal drugs at dance parties.

We strongly advise against the use of all illegal drugs.

In particular, we strongly advise against the use of a liquid drug known as ‘G’ (GHB or GBL).  There are very real risks with this drug.  Because it is a liquid it is very difficult to know how much to take.  You will not know how your body will react.

If you take too little, the drug will have no effect.  If you take too much, then you will vomit and may pass out.  There have been many deaths as a result of accidental overdosing of ‘G’.

Expect to be searched on the way into parties and, in particular, gay saunas.

 

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2016-12-05